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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Orphans' Home Cycle
The Story of a Marriage and The Story of a Family

History Boys
Maggie Lacey and Bill Heck
Horton Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle should enjoy a long, rich life in the theater. Wonderfully understated, detailed, soulful at times yet comedic, too, nine hours of theater transport the theatergoer through a few decades in small town Texas during the early part of the twentieth century. Michael Wilson, who knew the late playwright well, directs with care, precision, and, sincere affection for the work. He and his company at Hartford Stage continue to perform the work through October 24th.

The Story of a Childhood, reviewed earlier in these pages, tracked Horace Robedaux, during the early 1900s, through separation with his family and his attempt to reunite with his mother. This is the first section of the Foote compilation.

The Story of a Marriage, the middle three-hour portion of the cycle, finds Horace (Bill Heck) seeking a relationship with the widow Claire Ratliff (Virginia Kull). She has other suitors and Horace is rebuffed. He goes to business school and falls for Elizabeth Vaughn (Maggie Lacy). One of the sweetest moments within the scope of the entire oeuvre occurs when Elizabeth and her sister Laura (Jenny Dare Paulin) sit and talk. The scene is quite simple, delicate and moving. Ultimately, Horace and Elizabeth, since her parents' are difficult and very much opposed to the young couple's plan to marry, elope. Elizabeth is soon expecting and her father (James DeMarse) and mother (Hallie Foote) calm down. Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn suggest they could build a home for Elizabeth and Horace.

The final section (The Story of a Family) of this epic but not overwhelming story begins in 1918 in Harrison, Texas. Again, the name of the town is fictional but is based upon reality as Foote was raised in Wharton, Texas. Rain seemingly pours down upon the very front edge of the stage. Characters slowly walk by, with gravestones among them. A flu epidemic accounts for a number of deaths. Horace, himself, becomes ill. He survives. but Elizabeth and Horace's baby do not.

The second portion (of the final component) provides comic relief. Entitled Cousins, the act features a parade of relatives. None is more odd than Lola Reeves, played by the distinctive Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter. In the midst of the comedy, Horace's mother, Corella Davenport (Annalee Jefferies) becomes quite ill - and then recovers.

The Orphans' Home Cycle concludes with a final act set in 1928 and called The Death of Papa.. By now, Horace runs his haberdashery, a storefront business. He and his wife have another child, Horace, Jr. (Dylan Riley Snyder). This young actor also plays twelve-year-old Horace Robedaux during the first moments of the opening of the saga (see act one of The Story of a Childhood). The final minutes of the nine-hour compilation find many reacting to the death of Mr. Vaughn, Elizabeth's father.

The plays soon transfer to the Signature Theatre Company in New York City. The performance and production elements, in Hartford, are inspiring. Wilson's interpretation demonstrates the director's comprehension of the playwright's intent. Hartford Stage and Signature are to be complimented for taking and providing this unusual and enduring experience. Those who attend will, no doubt, choose favorite moments and characters. For some, the evocative set, developed by Jeff Cowie and David Barber, lives on. A hypothetical award for the current production might be shared by all of those involved, rather than a single performer or designer.

Foote writes with clarity and truth and has demonstrated so with scripts for stage, television and cinema. The Trip to Bountiful, for example, illustrates his precision and grace. It is very much to Wilson's credit that the actors, to a person, perform with specificity while allowing their characters and Foote's stories to fill the stage.

Hartford Stage, since early September, has presented different sections of the cycle on various evenings. This past Saturday, a marathon event, beginning at 11:00 a.m. and concluding (given breaks) about twelve hours later, occurred. That experience is offered, once again, this coming Saturday, October 24th, the final date of performance. The Orphans' Home Cycle opens in New York on November 5th. For further information about the Hartford shows, please call (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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